In a Carolina Hurricanes prospect development camp laden with former high draft picks and major junior top scorers, 22-year-old Patrick Brown's resume and background hardly fit in.
Brown is only a few months removed from his college graduation, capping off a successful four-year hockey career at Boston College.
The majority of his 26 peers at last week's camp, meanwhile, never attended a day of college. Haydn Fleury, the seventh overall pick in last month's NHL draft, actually noted not having to attend school as his favorite part of "being in the NHL" in an interview Friday.
With that said, Brown has never followed the typical path of a promising NHL prospect anyway.
In 2010, Brown had just graduated from Cranbook-Kingswood in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he scored 48 points in 30 games during his senior year.
He cracked—barely—the Central Scouting Service rankings for North American skaters, labeled the No. 202 player out of 210 ranked players. He wasn't drafted, but that wasn't too surprising: Only one player ranked below No. 181 that year was eventually selected.
Brown went to Boston College, his dream university since childhood, expecting to play hockey but not expecting to be a star.
Indeed, he recorded just two points in 42 appearances during his freshman and sophomore years.
"Like most freshmen coming in, BC is an outstanding team and there is a lot of competition. I struggled at first finding my role," he told Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe this past February.
At last, last autumn, Brown's career began to expand beyond the ordinary. He was voted team captain for his 2013-14 senior campaign. According to Mike Cole of NESN, coach Jerry York said he was picked not because he was Boston College's best player, but because of his "work ethic" and "how respected he is."
Brown thrived in the leadership role, leading the Eagles to their second Frozen Four appearance in four years.
Off the ice, he posted a GPA of 3.0 or higher for the fourth consecutive year, earning him Distinguished Scholar status and a spot on the Hockey East Conference All-Academic team.
The most eye-catching aspect of his season, however, proved to be his offensive improvement. Brown exploded for 15 goals and 15 assists in 40 games, nearly tripling his previous career high (11 points in 2012-13).
The performance caught the eyes of even then-Hurricanes Vice President Ron Francis. On April 12, the 'Canes signed Brown to a two-year, $1.175 million entry-level contract. Francis spoke about Brown in the press release:
Patrick showed tremendous leadership and character while serving as Boston College’s captain this season. He has an excellent work ethic and made great strides during his college career. We look forward to his continued development as a professional.
Francis didn't end up having to look too far forward.
Brown's impressive performance at last week's development camp surely gave the new general manager all the visual justification he needed.
"I’m a hard-nosed, gritty, power forward. I block shots, play hard defense. All the things that some guys may not be as willing to do, I love doing all that stuff," Brown told Peter Koutroumpis of TriangleSportsNetwork.
At 207 pounds, Brown was heavier than all but two other prospects in attendance (Dennis Robertson and Brendan Woods) and his sturdy frame and physical aptitude played to his advantage.
Above all else, though, Brown's oft-referenced work ethic stood out most readily. He appeared eager to take on even the most tedious of drills and happy to help his teammates make good impressions of their own.
In Saturday's scrimmage, all three of the former first- or second-round picks at the camp (Fleury, Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe) were assigned to the White team, which seemed to have a significant skill advantage on paper.
Brown, however, scored the game's opening goal just 24 seconds in and helped lead the Red team to a 5-3 upset win.
His play was enough to make new 'Canes head coach Bill Peters take notice.
"I thought Brown had a really good week throughout, Monday through Saturday," Peters told Hurricanes.com's Michael Smith. "He’s a guy who opened some eyes, and now I can put a name to a face."
One way or another, against the odds, Brown—once an 18-year-old barely given a glance in his draft year, a 20-year-old on the fourth line for an American university team, a 21-year-old looking ahead to a potential post-graduation career in economics—will be playing professional hockey in 2014-15.
He'll likely earn an invitation to the Hurricanes' NHL training camp in September. Few will expect him to actually make the team, as most players of Brown's pedigree spend at least one bridge year in the AHL between the NCAA and NHL.
Expectations for Brown haven't proven very accurate in the past, though, and perhaps they'll again be shattered by the prospect who raises his own projected ceiling with every passing season.
"I do it just by working hard."
Quotes and paraphrases obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.